Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 60 of 64

Art nearly leapt out of his seat when the flight attendant wheeled up the duty-free cart, bristling with novelty beakers of fantastically old whiskey shaped like jigging Scotchmen and drunken leprechauns swinging from lampposts.

By the time he hit UK customs he was supersonic, ready to hammer an entire packet of Player’s filterless into his face and light them with a blowtorch. It wasn’t even 0600h GMT, and the Sikh working the booth looked three-quarters asleep under his turban, but he woke right up when Art stepped past the red line and slapped both palms on the counter and used them as a lever to support him as he pogoed in place.

“Your business in England, sir?”

“I work for Virgin/Deutsche Telekom. Let me beam you my visa.” His hands were shaking so badly he dropped his comm to the hard floor with an ominous clatter. He snatched it up and rubbed at the fresh dent in the cover, then flipped it open and stabbed at it with a filthy fingernail.

“Thank you, sir. Door number two, please.”

Art took one step towards the baggage carousel when the words registered. Customs search! Godfuckingdammit! He jittered in the private interview room until another Customs officer showed up, overrode his comm and read in his ID and credentials, then stared at them for a long moment.

“Are you quite all right, sir?”

“Just a little wound up,” Art said, trying desperately to sound normal. He thought about telling the dead friend story again, but unlike a lowly airport security drone, the Customs man had the ability and inclination to actually verify it. “Too much coffee on the plane. Need to have a slash like you wouldn’t believe.”

The Customs man grimaced slightly, then chewed a corner of his little moustache. “Everything else is all right, though?”

“Everything’s fine. Back from a business trip to the States and Canada, all jetlagged. You know. Can you believe the bastards actually expect me at the office today?” This might work. Piss and moan about the office until he gets bored and lets him go. “I mean, you work your guts out, fly halfway around the world and do it some more, get strapped into a torture seat—you think Virgin springs for business-class tickets for its employees? Hell no!—for six hours, then they want you at the goddamned office.”

“Virgin?” the Customs man said, eyebrows going up. “But you flew in on BA, sir.”

Shit. Of course he hadn’t booked a Virgin flight. That’s what Fede’d be expecting him to do, he’d be watching for Art to use his employee discount and hop a flight back. “Yes, can you believe it?” Art thought furiously. “They called me back suddenly, wouldn’t even let me wait around for one of their own damned planes. One minute I’m eating breakfast, the next I’m in a taxi heading for the airport. I forgot half of my damned underwear in the hotel room! You’d think they could cope with one little problem without crawling up my cock, wouldn’t you?”

“Sir, please, calm down.” The Customs man looked alarmed and Art realized that he’d begun to pace.

“Sorry, sorry. It just sucks. Bad job. Time to quit, I think.”

“I should think so,” the Customs man said. “Welcome to England.”

Traffic was early-morning light and the cabbie drove like a madman. Art kept flinching away from the oncoming traffic, already unaccustomed to driving on the wrong side of the road. England seemed filthy and gray and shabby to him now, tiny little cars with tiny, anal-retentive drivers filled with self-loathing, vegetarian meat-substitutes and bad dentistry. In his rooms in Camden Town, Art took a hasty and vengeful census of his stupid belongings, sagging rental furniture and bad art prints hanging askew (not any more, not after he smashed them to the floor). Bad English clothes (toss ’em onto the floor, looking for one thing he’d be caught dead wearing in NYC, and guess what, not a single thing). Stupid keepsakes from the Camden market, funny novelty lighters, retro rave flyers preserved in glassine envelopes.

He was about to overturn his ugly little pressboard coffee table when he realized that there was something on it.

A small, leather-worked box with a simple brass catch. Inside, the axe-head. Two hundred thousand years old. Heavy with the weight of the ages. He hefted it in his hand. It felt ancient and lethal. He dropped it into his jacket pocket, instantly deforming the jacket into a stroke-y left-hanging slant. He kicked the coffee table over.

Time to go see Fede.

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